Transitioning from GLBs

"If all my customers wanted this..."

by Barbara Katzenberg

Feburary 2024

“If all my customers would do this, I’d sell my leaf blowers.”


That’s what our neighborhood landscaper told me a few weeks ago when he had completed our leaf clean-up experiment. I hate the noise and pollution of gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) and voted for their phase out in Lexington. But, I also knew the transition to electric equipment might be hard for some small businesses. This landscaper had told me he was worried about what the phase out would mean for him. When I brought up the idea of raking as an alternative, he was skeptical, saying that it would take much longer and would end up costing homeowners a lot more.


My experiment had two parts: First, as a baseline, I asked him to give me a price to clean up the leaves from my backyard lawn. Importantly, I asked him to not remove the leaves but rather distribute them in neat piles under the trees and shrubs. Removing leaves from the site translates into a lot of extra effort. Once we’d agreed on that price, I asked him to use rakes instead of his ordinary equipment (GLBs). Our deal was his team would only work for as much time as he would have if he’d used his regular equipment.


On the appointed day, he arrived early in the morning with two helpers. The job took about an hour and a half. The result was neat and provided the needed light for the grass. Admittedly, it was not quite the unblemished “golf course” look we sometimes see in properties where all leaves are entirely removed during the fall. But, keeping sharp edges between the lawn and the leafy areas helped create something that in my mind is still pleasing to the eye.


Afterwards, we had a debrief on what worked and what didn’t. Our landscaper noted that he saved money by not having to pay for gas and not having to pay the $200 “tipping fee” for disposing the leaves off-site. Of course, this fee would be saved by leaving the leaves on site whether they used blowers or rakes. He also pointed to the fact that he was able to start earlier than usual because he didn’t have to worry about the GLB noise bothering the neighbors. He said his business requires that he do what customers want, and the solution of raking and leaving leaves won’t satisfy everyone. But if all his customers were like me, he claimed, he’d sell his leaf blowers tomorrow. That was probably an exaggeration, but this experiment gives me hope that there are ways to move towards environmentally friendly yard care that is neat enough to satisfy our neighbors and keeps landscapers employed.

The landscaping crew at work with rakes, redistributing the leaves from lawn to other areas that will benefit as the leaves decompose (above); the finished state retains the leaves yet has a pleasing, well-kept look (below).

Lexington Living Landscapes asked Barbara to share a bit more information about this experiment. Our questions and her answers are below.

LLL: How did you initiate this request with your landscapers? Or how did you and he come up with this experiment proposal together? In other words, any advice for helping someone initiate this conversation with their own landscaper?

BK: Because our landscaper had expressed concerns about the GLB phase out, I had been looking for ways to engage him. I just waited until he was in the neighborhood and said I was interested in "trying something" and wondered whether he'd be open to hearing what I had in mind. After they had completed the work, he had additional ideas of what kind of offering he would make generally to customers, e.g., how many times to come and the possibility of mowing over the leaves if people preferred that look. I think the key was to try to define a job that involved equivalent pricing to what he would ordinarily have done to demonstrate a desire to continue to support his business.

LLL: Your yard looks really nice after they finished. Did the leaves blow back over your yard over the following two weeks?

BK: The leaves have pretty much stayed put since they did their work at the end of last year. Part of this was the day they chose to do the work which was a little damp. Since then it has continued to be damp or there has been snow cover which helped.

LLL: What experiment or plan do you have in mind for spring clean up?

BK: There was quite a bit of branch drop in the various windstorms. Some of the heavy rains also dislodged some wood chips from the paths in my yard so I may ask for their help in tidying things up. I won't be moving the leaves under the trees or shrubs as they continue to perform a valuable function and look neat enough to me.